Giving Up Plebiscite Option
10 January 2004
Karachi: The Jammu and Kashmir dispute is the core issue between Pakistan and India that has bedevilled relations between the two countries since August 1947. The dispute basically involved three parties. Pakistan and India are the two main parties according to the UN Resolutions. The third are the Kashmiris whose right of self-determination has been recognized in several UN Resolutions. Pakistan and India, on their own, cannot decide the future of the Kashmiris. The commitment to enable the Kashmiris to decide about their future was not only made by India when it accepted the conditional so-called 'Instrument of Accession' but was also explicitly admitted in India's complaint before the UN Security Council in January 1948. The Indian representative, in his letter to the president of Security Council, regarding the status of the state, clarified that finally, 'its people would be free to decide their future by the recognized democratic method of plebiscite or referendum which, in order to ensure complete impartiality, might be held under international auspices'. Furthermore, the UN Security Council discussions led to the resolutions of August 13, 1948, and January 5, 1949, which clearly laid down that, ' the question of the accession of the state of Jammu and Kashmir to India or Pakistan will be decided through the democratic method of a free and impartial plebiscite'. These UN Resolutions are still valid even though India has made many efforts to declare them 'dead' particularly after the signing of the Simla agreement on July 3, 1972. 'I could not imagine that the head of a country could violate agreements with such impunity', President Ayub wrote in 'Friends not masters'. 'I am not referring to his personal assurances conveyed directly as well as through various channels, but to the solemn pledges which Pandit Nehru had formally conveyed to the Government of Pakistan on the subject of plebiscite in Jammu and Kashmir'. In one such communication dated October 4, 1948, Pandit Nehru assured Liaquat Ali Khan: 'We have never resiled from our position that there should, as soon as normal conditions return to Jammu and Kashmir, be a fair and free plebiscite'. However, by 1957, Indian leaders, including Nehru, began to hint that the real settlement of the Kashmir problem lay in partition, not plebiscite. What they meant was the recognition of defacto frontier along the Kashmir ceasefire line as the de jure frontier between India and Pakistan. Each side would keep what it had; and that would be that. India would not be too fussy about what went on, across the cease- fire line. Today the Indian attitude is characterized by a certain smugness based on the knowledge that possession is nine points of the law - however illegal and immoral the possession. Indian strategy is based on the assumption that there would, in due course, be no more talk of a plebiscite and the defacto situation would acquire through usage a de jure status. The Kashmir dispute would then be settled out of court. This strategy seems to be working very well indeed. Pakistan's Kashmir policy seems to be crumpling up. It appears that we have reached a decisive stage and are about to witness the drop scene of this shabby, shameful, sordid drama. It is no secret that solutions to the problem other than a plebiscite were, at one time, considered seriously by the Pakistani side. India is said at one point to have offered to cede to Pakistan all of the state of Jammu and Kashmir which Pakistan actually held with some small tracts of additional territory in Kashmir province and Poonch so as to straighten out the border, the first time it has proposed to transfer to Pakistan any land which it actually held in the disputed state. Pakistan, however, refused to accept any partition scheme which did not give it the entire Chenab valley in Jammu. India had no difficulty in rejecting this suggestion and the impasse continues. The important point to note is that at no stage did the Pakistani side abandon the UN resolutions or set aside the plebiscite formula. Today the Indian government is not prepared for any Kashmir solution which is not strictly in accordance with its own national interest, and they are prepared to wait until Pakistani rulers accommodated themselves to this fact. They seem willing to do what they could to let us down gently, but they are not prepared to modify their stand on the terms of an ultimate settlement. No responsible section of Indian opinion is prepared today to consider any settlement which would entail India's giving up the whole or any portion of the Kashmir valley to Pakistan. The only solution India would be prepared to consider is acknowledging the current Line of Control (LoC) in Jammu and Kashmir as the international border between India and Pakistan, thereby stabilizing the situation and then allowing normal interaction between Kashmiris in Azad Kashmir and those on the Indian side. All other proposals including (1) an independent Kashmir, or (2) working out a new standstill arrangement on Kashmir between India and Pakistan and placing the territory of the state under some UN trusteeship mechanism to be followed a few years later by a plebiscite, or (3) cede the Kashmir valley to Pakistan, while India retains Ladakh, Jammu and other areas, are just not acceptable to India. While the status quo suits the Indian book, it is anathema to the people of Pakistan. No wonder, people were shocked to hear what President Musharraf had to say on the subject of plebiscite in Kashmir. 'We are for UN Security Council Resolution', he said, 'however, we have left that (plebiscite) aside'. With that, Pakistan dropped a 50-year old demand for a United Nations-mandated plebiscite in Kashmir. For more than 50 years, Pakistan has insisted on a plebiscite to allow people in Kashmir to decide between joining India or Pakistan - a position backed by a series of Security Council resolutions. Today Pakistan has publicly resiled from that position. Why this volte-face? Why this complete reversal of position, Pakistan has held for more than 50 years? Why now? It is incomprehensible and a matter of a deep concern why General Musharraf has de-linked the Kashmir dispute from the UN resolutions and set aside the plebiscite solution in violation of all the solemn pledges given by the Government of Pakistan and Mr. Jinnah himself to the people of Kashmir? Why has he resiled from this position now? In so doing, he has demolished our principled stand for the last more than half a century and knocked the bottom out of our case in the Kashmir dispute. The tragedy is that it is not going to make the slightest difference to the Indian position. It is difficult to rationalize the long list of concessions that Musharraf has been making to India for sometime past, except on the score that he is gripped with a sense of severe desperation to bring New Delhi to the negotiating table and faces intense American pressure to come to an understanding, however unfavourable to Pakistan. As Bismarck once said, 'he who seeks the friendship of his enemy with concessions will never be rich enough'. Musharraf would be well advised to heed these words of wisdom. The most accomplished foreign minister and diplomat in contemporary history was Charles Maurice Talleyrand (1754 - 1838). He stipulated that three phenomena should be avoided in the conduct of any country's foreign relations, namely, there should be no over- zealousness or enthusiasm, and no undue haste, there should be no excessive anxiety, and third, once a policy is decided upon, there should be consistency in implementing it. If one were to judge General Musharraf's unrehearsed foreign policy pronouncements and u- turns, the conclusion is inescapable that all the three stipulations of Talleyrand have been completely ignored. By publicly abandoning the Security Council Resolutions and 'setting aside' the promised plebiscite, Musharraf has weakened Pakistan's bargaining position. He has no card up his sleeve now. In a conversation with the British High Commissioner on plebiscite on Kashmir, more than 50 years ago, Mr. Jinnah said: 'the most urgently important matter for decision was the form of administration to be set up in Kashmir on the cessation of hostilities'. He had no doubt that India intended to retain control of Kashmir and to accept no form of plebiscite unfavourable to that end. Impartial administration of the state after the ceasefire was essential and without the guarantee of such a development he himself could not ask the Muslims in Kashmir to lay down their arms. He did not personally favour the intervention of the United Nations Organization or of any other outside authority. He still preferred the solution suggested by him to India on November 1, 1947, that the two Governors General, duly authorized by their respective Dominions, should accept responsibility for the task of setting up a neutral administration in Kashmir and organizing a plebiscite'. Little did Mr. Jinnah realize that one day Pakistan would abandon the Security Council Resolutions on Kashmir, make a major policy shift under foreign pressure and 'set aside' plebiscite. More than 50 years after Mr. Jinnah's death, we cannot look back with much pleasure on our foreign policy and the way we have handled the Kashmir dispute. The present position is that Kashmir has been swallowed up and is now a part of the Indian Union. We are told to lay off, bow our heads, give up our support for the Kashmiris, forget about the plebiscite and the Kashmiri's right of self-determination enshrined in umpteen Security Council Resolutions, forget all the promises made to them by Mr. Jinnah.